Eric Paslay got his start in Nashville as a songwriter, crafting tunes for artists including Jake Owen and Eli Young – and racking up plenty of success along the way, including a Grammy nomination. In 2014, he released his self-titled debut album, which featured tracks including Song About A Girl, She Don’t Love You and the Billboard top 5 hit Friday Night. Now he’s back with his latest EP, Heartbeat Higher, his first new release since 2018 single Young Forever.
The EP opens up with the title track, a duet between Paslay and Sarah Buxton (who also co-wrote the song along with Paslay and Zach Crowell). Paslay’s deep, slightly gravelly vocals balance perfectly with Buxton’s soulful, richer sound, particularly in the rocky, anthemic chorus. The song has a lovely soaring quality about it and I feel like it would slot really well into Paslay’s live shows. I was also impressed with the amount of passion in Paslay’s delivery as well as his impressive vocal range throughout, particularly on the high notes towards the end of the song.
Across the EP’s four tracks, one thing which consistently stood out to me was the sheer variety. Paslay has never been shy about blending different styles and sounds in his songwriting, and this EP certainly runs the gamut in that regard. It’s a real skill to be able to pull such an approach off successfully, especially with just a handful of songs in which to do so, and showcases Paslay’s talents as a performer as well as highlighting why he’s become so well-loved and respected as a songwriter too.
Perhaps the most surprising song of the group is Paslay’s take on Mike Posner’s I Took A Pill In Ibiza, which he performed live on his most recent visit to the UK in September last year. Whilst on the surface it seems like an unusual choice, Paslay really makes it his own, capturing the defeated nature of the song and really conveying the cautionary tale element. His delivery has a plaintive quality to it that works very well and the sparse instrumentation adds to the lonely feeling too.
For me the standout track on the EP is On This Side Of Heaven, which sees Paslay singing about a lost love. It starts with a slow, gentle piano intro reminiscent of Little Big Town’s Girl Crush, giving it a dreamlike feeling. However what really elevated it was Paslay’s performance. He injects so much raw emotion and yearning into the lyrics that it’s impossible not to be moved, yet keeps everything subdued enough to avoid being overwhelming. The string-led bridge creates a really cinematic vibe and as a whole the song feels like a real shift for him.
Paslay closes the EP with Boat In A Bottle. It’s an upbeat, tropical-influenced number that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Kenny Chesney album, and has a cheery, hopeful vibe with a chorus that practically begs you to sing along with the ‘whoahs’ and wave your hands in the air. The ‘we’re all in this together’ message is very much needed right now and it’s got all the makings of a classic summer country song. It ends the EP on a really positive note and provides yet another contrast to what’s gone before.
Overall Heartbeat Higher is another step forward for Paslay, acting as a bridge between his previous songs whilst also showcasing his many different sides as a songwriter and performer. He’s shown that he can turn his hand to pretty much any style of music and it’s a great way for him to re-introduce himself and the new direction he’s heading in. My only criticism is I would have loved another one or two songs – but hopefully there’ll be some more new music in the not-too-distant future…
Track list: 1. Heartbeat Higher (featuring Sarah Buxton) 2. On This Side Of Heaven 3. I Took A Pill In Ibiza 4. Boat In A Bottle Record label: Paso Fino Records Release date: 3rd July 2020